Though not in the traditional sense. The Mountaineers, rather, have replaced complexity with simplicity, and hesitation with action. First-year coordinator Tony Gibson said he believes WVU is playing and reacting faster than it did last season, when, as head coach Dana Holgorsen notes, the team was "doing too many things" under Keith Patterson.
Besides ceasing the field and boundary corner set-up for a left-right configuration that keeps players in the same exact position and eliminates potential lengthy runs to the other side of the field after a play, Gibson has dialed back some of the schematics. That's not to say West Virginia doesn't still possess multiple packages, from fronts to blitzes to third owns and goal line situations. But there's a bit less disguise at times.
That also means there is less to consider on a particular play. It's more free flowing, with an emphasis – and this was harped upon by longtime Penn State assistant and new WVU senior associate head coach Tom Bradley – of getting players to the ball. The more players, he said, that are in the general area around the ball when the play is stopped, the better the defense is functioning. Gibson and Bradley are attempting to free up the bodies and minds to simply read and react, see the play and attack responsibly.
"I just want our players to go play and not think," said Gibson, who noted he didn't want to be hamstrung by players being frozen while analyzing a play. The coach also won't be forced into one certain set-up because of verbiage or the definition/strict design of the defense. West Virginia will use both odd and even fronts this season. It will line up in nickel and dime packages. It'll have three linebackers or four linebackers. It'll have five defensive backs. Or four. Or six.
"The key for us is we don't want to confuse our guys," Holgorsen said. "We don't want to put too much in. The reason I run a multiple defense is it can be very multiple. If you're a four-down defense, you can't be multiple. If you're a three-down defense, an odd defense, you can be multiple. I have to look at what gives us problems, because a lot of the teams in the Big 12 have similar offenses. And the thing that gives us the most trouble is an odd defense."
Gibson said the Mountaineers, as one would expect, will have to become an even, four-man front at times to counteract Alabama's power run game in the season opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Aug. 30 in Atlanta.
"We are going to look like a 3-4 and a 3-3," said Gibson, who studied the 3-3 under former WVU coordinator Jeff Casteel. "Right now, we are playing with three down, three linebackers and five defensive backs. And we are going to keep getting better with that. Are there going to be times when we are going to play with four linebackers? No doubt. When you go play Alabama, are we going to play some four-man front? We are going to have to."
West Virginia got plenty of work along the line, where Bradley is coaching, in Saturday's drills while practicing its goal line defense. The goal line schemes were newly installed, and the defense got the better of the offense in the last scrimmage. WVU B back Cody Clay noted that the offense hadn't yet fully installed its power and goal line sets, and thus were at a disadvantage. Still, the Mountaineers showed some ability to control the front and often were able to get linebackers and secondary players to knife through with a chance for loss.
"We were throwing some new things at them (on Saturday), blitzes and fronts, things like that," Gibson said. "We got our goal line and short yardage package in, so we got some really good work and good reps with that. It was great red zone work today for our guys. I thought we made some plays and made some stupid mistakes that we got to clean up. But overall, effort-wise I was pleased. Technique, we have some things to work out. If I think right, I don't think the first group scored on us the first couple times. We got a turnover and I thought we handled them pretty good.
"I think our effort right now has been very good," he added. "Our kids are flying to the ball and we are hitting people and we have done a good job of getting some turnovers. No doubt, a lot of that has to do with (less thinking). We try to get them lined up as fast as we can get them lined up with the uptempo offense and get our guys in the right position, get their eyes on their keys and anytime you can do that, I think you are going to have success. What we have to do now is get them back in the film room on Monday and keep learning and keep trying to get better."